Wind and cold don't scare participants in 15th annual Penguin Plunge in Westfield

By Hope E. Tremblay

Special to The Republican

WESTFIELD - A bundled-up crowd cheered from the shores of Hampton Ponds on Saturday as 40 Penguin Plunge participants braved the icy water to raise funds for Amelia Park Children's Museum for the 15th year.

Veteran plunger state Sen. Donald F. Humason took to the pond for the 15th time wearing his iconic suit and tie while fellow plunger state Rep. John Velis donned shorts, a T-shirt and socks.

Humason recalled plunges from years past, including the year a pool was set up on the Green and participants had to wade through 18 inches of water colder than the pond. For a few years the event was held on Congamond Ponds in Southwick, but for most of its 15 years, the Penguin Plunge has taken place at Hampton Ponds.

Humason said his strategy is simple: "Don't let it psych you out - just walk in."

Russell Linder, of Agawam, an 11-time plunger, uses a different strategy to brave the cold water. About an hour before entering the water, Linder strips down to his swim trunks and tank top and walks around to get used to the cold air.

"I just take off my shoes and go for it," Linder said.

Linder was last year's individual best costume winner and he donned the same attire this year - a red, white and blue ensemble that seemed to fit in with this year's theme of Westfield's 350th anniversary.

Linder plunged for the first time on his 20th birthday and has kept the tradition going for his nieces and nephews. "They love the children's museum," he said.

Linder began participating in the Leprechaun Plunge in South Hadley to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute several years ago after his father died from cancer.

"Those are the two charities I support," he said, "one for the kids and one for my dad."

This year Linder coaxed his friend Mike Hogan of Feeding Hills into joining him. Dubbed "New Guy Mike" for the day, Hogan said he was happy to support his friend's family.

Most agreed the worst part of the plunge is actually coming out of the water, when the cold air hits.

"You try to acclimate yourself to the cold air because the water is about 35 degrees and you come out of that to 20-degree air and it is cold," said Rick Barry, who plunged Saturday for the 14th year in a row.

Barry also plunged in honor of a relative who passed away. His aunt Elaine Barry died last week, and to honor her he wore a Tom Brady T-shirt under his traditional Penguin Plunge garb, which includes a Hawaiian shirt, swim trunks and a hat complete with a penguin.

"This is for her," said Barry, a Bears fan. "I'm not a Patriots hater though."

Barry received the Excelsior Award for raising the most money. This year he was just shy of raising $5,000.

Event organizer Michael Roundy said approximately $15,000 was raised by 40 participants and sponsors. All funds support daily operations and exhibits at the museum, located at the Amelia Park Complex on South Broad Street.

This year's Best Group Costume award was given to father-and-son team Terry and Jordan Hanacek, who represented the Westfield Junior Bombers football team and carried the team flag. Individual Best Costume Award recipient Raymond Dionne was unrecognizable in his "Hampton Ponds Swamp Monster" camouflage costume.

The next museum fundraising events are the Silent Disco party Feb. 9 at Shortstop Bar & Grill and the second annual BrewFest June 1.

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Donald Humason